How many people can you pack into a gazebo?

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‘No one knows — because no one has ever tried.’

Some time ago (in a piece called ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’) I wrote about stuff that families find funny. (Usually, but not always, it’s only the people actually in that family who find these things funny.) Sometimes, like in the Henry Clan, it’s bad puns. My Grampa Henry had a whole collection of particularly-awful puns. Plus dirty limericks. He wrote one once about his gall-bladder operation. He survived; fortunately, the limerick did not.

Me. Doing stand-up in a bed of you-know-what. Check out ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’ for more punishment (er, examples)

Besides awful puns (and sometimes limericks) there’s usually a set of inside jokes — groaners that never fail to amuse, at least when told (and retold) within the confines of the family itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “How many dead people are in that graveyard?” (Answer: “All of them.”) I know, I know. If you can stand it, a good selection of both Henry and Whitmore specialties can be found in ‘Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar’. Just don’t take a sip of coffee before you read it; there’s a Whitmore urology joke that’s killer.

Sometimes this funny family stuff can’t be categorized as a pun or a joke or even a limerick. Sometimes what’s funny just is.

Take gazebos. For some reason, if you’re a Henry, the mere sight of a gazebo is sure to crack you up. (If you’re not sure what a gazebo is, you can click here or just look at the photo at the top of this post.) If a Henry sees a gazebo, and points it out to a fellow Henry, both burst out laughing. If there’s a non-Henry along, he/she can look a bit baffled.

Two Dudes in front of an empty gazebo. Yup, I am laughing right now

Thinking gazebos are funny has just always been one of our Family Things. Partly it’s that ‘gazebo’ is such an inherently funny word. Also, they invariably look, well, silly. Kind of ornate and effete and ridiculous. It doesn’t help that they are — always — empty. Go on; try to remember the last time you saw anybody actually occupying a gazebo.

We Henrys used to try to imagine scenarios when we’d make use of a gazebo if we had one, say, in our yard in Southern Illinois. (Sit there and read a book? Nah. You’d get eaten alive by mosquitoes. But what if the gazebo had screens? Cue screams of Henry laughter.)

We thought gazebos were so silly we used to make a game of pointing out all the (empty, every single one) gazebos we could find. We’d point, then make a ‘zero’ (to indicate no one was in said gazebo). We didn’t have to say anything; we’d just ‘get it’. I once took a bike ride with my Mom and Middle Younger Brother Roger all around his lovely gazebo-dotted hometown of Geneva, Illinois. We almost fell off our Schwinns.

We Henrys are not the only ones, apparently, who find gazebos innately hilarious. Recently, John Mulaney did a Gazebo Riff during his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live. Here, I’ve cued it up for you:

Nice to know the Mulaneys were a silly family too. I can’t wait to see if he works a gall-bladder limerick into a future monologue.

Before I go, I must admit that there was one time a Henry actually used a gazebo. That I witnessed, anyway. This was a few years ago out in Petaluma, CA, where my Oldest Younger Brother Scott made an appearance at the Butter and Eggs Festival (yes, that’s a Thing) with his band, Bad Neighbor.

Bad Neighbor plays. Yes, that’s a gazebo and the band is in it. You can’t see the whole thing. But I did; I was there. But I was never in the gazebo myself

Quick note. His band got the name ‘Bad Neighbor’ because one night when they were practicing in his garage, the guy next door came over to complain about the noise and said, “You are a really bad neighbor!” To which my Bro said, “Thanks, you just named our band.” Sometimes, when just two of the four band members do a gig, they call themselves Half-Bad Neighbor.

But why play in a gazebo? Isn’t that what band shells are for?

Oh. I guess the band shell, like this one in Central Park, was otherwise occupied

New York City. May 2018

Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens. Continue reading

Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and forth on the Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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The Process of Elimination

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‘What to do when the blog clock is ticking’

People sometimes ask if I have trouble thinking of things to write about. Nope, I have the opposite problem — too many random ideas doing battle in my brain. Usually I look through photos to help me decide. But today that only made things worse. I kept finding photos I’d wished I’d used in previous posts. Like, here’s one that would have been perfect for last week, when I wrote about good times in and on the Lake of My Youth:

Look! I found a photo of the front of Sir Launch-A-Lot, complete with sign. That’s Gramma Henry, flanked by Only Sister Laura and Only Mom, um, Mom

Oh, and here’s one that would have been dandy to include in my riff on weddings (“I do, I do. I really do like weddings”)

Looking “back” on my first, “Polio-Shot” wedding. This was the rehearsal. But I guess you could say that about the whole marriage: that it was a “rehearsal”

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“Yet’s go to Ye Yake”

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‘Gosh. Illinois’ largest lake has been around for 50 years’

Now before you Whippersnappers out there start in with “Hey, isn’t Lake Michigan Illinois’ largest lake?” Or even “What’s so all-fired old about 50 years? There are lakes (see afore-mentioned Lake Michigan) that have been around for, like, a zillion years,” let me point out that Carlyle Lake (or if you’re feeling fancy “Lake Carlyle”) is the largest lake within the borders of Illinois, and that it’s a man-made lake that’s been around since 1967. So there.

This picture from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows the Carlyle Lake dam and spillway in all its glory. Nice stats, too, if that floats your boat

Carlyle Lake is also the only lake named after my personal home town, Carlyle, Illinois. But I’m not going to get into Fun Lake Facts. My mission here is to entertain. And so, actually, was (and is) the Lake’s. Oh, there was some serious flood-control going on. But for my family and friends, The Lake was really all about fun and games. Continue reading

“Swim, Sandy, swim!”

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‘Equal time for dogs’

My Porn Star Name is ‘Sandy Peterson’. In honor of Sandy the Dog, the beloved Pet of My Youth, pictured above in a moment of not-unusual adorableness.

But before we get to Sandy, a quick word about that word game. Maybe you played it too. It’s the one where you take the name of your beloved pet, add your mother’s maiden name, and, voila!, you’ve got your Porn Star Name. (The Child’s is ‘Tuna Henry’.)

I must admit ours are pretty tame. Over wine at my dining room table I’ve heard some easy-to-imagine-clad-in-fishnets doozies: ‘Pinky Parker’, ‘Missy Goodbody’. Though the Dude’s is ‘Duffy Miltner Flockmaster Cromartie’, which is pretty darned racy.

But back to pets, which is the point of this piece. A couple of weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about felines of yore in ‘The Cat Who Ran Away from Home and Broke My Heart’.

I finally found a picture of me with Aunt Marilyn’s Herkimer, the first cat I adored. And tortured with two-year-old abandon

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That’ll teach you

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‘My high school field trip to the state penitentiary’

So I was having my hair cut last week and telling Anthony about last week’s post — the one about driving and road trips — and had gotten to the part about how in my high school the Drivers’ Ed teacher was always the same guy who taught gym and something called ‘social studies’.

Drivers’ Ed/Gym/Social Studies teacher Mr. K

We got to talking about how different high school was way back when, even in Brooklyn, where he grew up. How we had classes like Industrial Arts (AKA ‘Shop’) and Home Economics (‘Home Ec’) and organizations like FFA, which stood for Future Farmers of America.

I don’t know whatall went on in Shop (except that it looks a tad oily) since Shop was strictly for boys. In fact, boys were required to take either Shop or Agriculture. Girls had no choice, but were similarly required to take the aforementioned Home Economics. I don’t know where the ‘economics’ came in, since basically we were taught cooking, sewing, setting the table — all skills designed to make us better wives and mothers. Interesting note: Home Ec was taught by a Miss Ford, who was neither. Continue reading

“Drive,” she said.

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‘On the glories of the Open Road’

Last week’s tribute to my Male Parent and his napping powers included a memory of Dad piloting us on those long drives up to Gramma’s house. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott remarked that Dad was the only person he knew who could ‘simultaneously nap and smoke a cigarette while driving.’)

So true, Scott, so true. But I failed to mention why Dad would get so sleepy on those drives. It was because it was at least six hours to Gramma’s — on charming-but-small-town-clogged two-lane highways — and we wouldn’t start the drive till he got home from work. Sometimes, I remember, we would pull over to the side of the road so everybody, not just Dad, could sort-of-safely sleep. I remember that when we lived in Memphis, and the trip to Gramma’s was more like twelve hours, we had a mattress in the back of the Ford station wagon for the kids to crash on. Very Joad-like, but that’s the way it was. Continue reading

The Breakfast of Champions

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‘Some random thoughts on The Think Drink’

So. I’m walking into my apartment lobby and run into a couple of neighbors. Well, I didn’t literally run into them, which is a good thing because I was clutching an extremely large container of coffee. A venti quad skim latte, to be exact. Which is four shots of espresso and some frothy skim milk. It’s really big, and really good, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.

Well, after making some remark about coming by later to ‘scrape me off the walls’, my neighbors waltzed off to buy Christmas cards or wrapping paper or evergreen fronds. Or something. While I came upstairs to write this piece. (And sip my coffee.)

I love coffee. If some doctor told me I couldn’t drink it, I would have some pretty serious issues. I think it’s delicious, and I also think it gets your brain firing on all cylinders. I’m not the only one. Years ago there was an ad campaign for coffee with the tagline ‘The Think Drink’. And, to this day, Young Attractive Persons use coffee as a study aid. (See photo at the top of this post as proof; Attractive Person pictured is the son of one of my friends, preparing for a final exam.)

Proof that coffee fuels creativity as well as study. Note mug on table as well as spoons on noses

I grew up with Attractive Persons who were always drinking coffee. ‘Would you like coffee?’, ‘Coffee’s in the kitchen’ or even a simple ‘Coffee’s on’ was how one was greeted at the door. In fact, while digging out pictures for this post, I realized that it was a rare family photo that did not feature a Henry or Peterson adult clutching a mug. Continue reading

The Daydream Believer and the Homecoming Queen

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‘A song sends me rocketing down Memory Lane, and reaching for my tiara’

The other morning I was in Starbucks, practicing my New Post-Election Niceness (‘After you’. No, ‘after you’. No no I insist! ‘After you‘) when I realized that the Monkees were playing on the sound system.

Yup, it was ‘Daydream Believer’, sung by the Actual Monkees, not some cover band. And not only were the Young Moms Wrestling with Strollers on the Way to School Drop-off and the Scrubs-Clad New York Hospital Med Students and Orderlies bopping to the beat, but so were the Starbucks baristas. One of them, a young man with a most impressive set of dreads tucked up under his requisite foodservice cap, was actually singing along. He knew the words to ‘Daydream Believer’, a song that was popular about a zillion years ago when I was in high school.

Speaking of popular, speaking of high school. Scroll down a bit for a photo of me from Way Back When. As you can see, looks-wise, I wouldn’t exactly scare the horses, but my kind of long-haired lankiness wasn’t exactly in fashion back then. At least not where I grew up. The really popular girls — the ones who went steady with the Guys on the Basketball Team (we had no football team) or the Guys in Bands (and I don’t mean bands with trombones in them) — were ‘cute’ and ‘perky’, and with, um, more 3-dimensional figures than mine. They were usually also cheerleaders. Continue reading